You’ve undoubtedly read stories — all of them by yours truly — about a STEM fair that will take place this week in the city’s newly-minted education district.
I really hope it goes well. Maybe I’ll learn a few things I never knew before — such as how to hammer a nail, sweat a pipe, rotate a screw without stripping it, and — most of all — assemble one of those infernal IKEA pieces of furniture without waking the neighborhood while venting my frustration.
I know not all of this comes under the STEM umbrella, per se, but a lot of it does. Just about all of life, it seems, can be fit into one of those four categories: Science, Engineering, Technology and Math (STEM). And those are four subjects about which I know nothing. I’m ashamed. I’ve gone 66 years and two months watching my wife put together every do-it-yourself desk we’ve ever bought. I need my son to drop everything and come over to my house to reset my cable box, or fix some simple little thing on my computer that anyone with an IQ above 45 wouldn’t even have to think about.
Right now, the faucet in my kitchen is beginning to drip. And I am terrified because although I have some idea of how to deal with that, manual dexterity is not my strong suit. The most basic household details intimidate me worse than Sonny Corleone when he whaled on Carlo Rizzi.
This comes naturally — and honestly. I think I knew by the fifth grade that I was no scientist. The seventh-grade science fair was a disaster. My father, a veteran of 40 years with General Electric, tried to put together a miniature turbine engine so I could impress the judges. I would have too, if I’d ever been able to get the fool thing to work.
In the eighth grade, we decided to forgo projects that involved moving parts and focused on a scholarly treatise on the telephone. I won, and it was my crowning achievement in the annals of science.
Soon enough, it was freshman Physical Science at St. John’s Prep with Mr. Matson. The very first test I took I scored a whopping 40 percent. You read that right. 4-0.
Matson told my parents that I was grossly unprepared for high school. Gotta say, that made me so much more eager to embrace science.
Sophomore year was no different. I flunked biology my first quarter and probably would have flunked for the whole year. The final was brutal. But the teacher had some kind of health issue and never corrected the finals. He was an odd duck anyway, so I can only imagine what that was. But it saved me from summer school, so I was good with it.
Junior and senior year continued to be a struggle with Algebra, Analytic Geometry (you want hopeless? I’ll give you hopeless!), physics and chemistry. Even my uncle felt bad for me as I plodded through Blake Reynolds’ physics classes, joking to me that the only “physic” he knew was Ex-Lax.
By senior year, my brain must have started taking on weight or something because I actually got through four quarters of chemistry without any trauma. However, whenever Jeopardy features categories on the Periodic Table, I get a sandwich, because I know I won’t know one “answer.”
And here we are today. I’ve probably spent more money hiring people to do things I watch my friends do every day, and I have to say it’s not very reaffirming.
And we’ve come full circle, too. Back in the day, learning a trade was considered a very smart thing to do. Then, we all got college-happy, and anyone who didn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on college degrees was in danger of being left on the pier once the ship of life sailed.
Not now, though. Now, I’m reading more articles by people who say “if you’re not college material, you won’t be picking up scraps of food off the street. You can still learn a trade and make really good money.”
Those who say that just about every aspect of life is governed by some kind of a STEM subject is correct. Some of it is obvious. But how about those artists over the summer who filled entire sides of buildings with murals? How did they know how much paint to use? How to scale those giant murals up from schematics? Science. Sci-yi-yi-yi-yi-ience. They’ve blinded me with science.
Do you want to lay a new carpet in your living room? How do you know how much to buy? Geometry. Area equals width times length, and it’s measured in squares (feet or yards). Even I know that.
I could never get Algebra, nor could I find any use for it. When was I ever going to spend any time solving quadratic equations?
But as it turns out, the disciplines you learn by sweating over Algebra problems teaches you the mental acuity to prioritize situations so you can solve them rationally.
I expect to learn quite a bit Thursday when the STEM fair goes off at St. Mary’s, Tech, KIPP Academy and the Lynn YMCA. From 4 to 7 p.m. you may enter a world that changes your life forever.
And I’m sure it’s not too late for me, either. I’m sure there’s something even a guy with 10 thumbs on his hands can learn.